Date: November 26, 2014
Author: Mike Clayton @ The Australian GC

McIlroy at home in Sydney


The Australian is perhaps the one course in the country to have been so utterly transformed by a golf course designer. Formerly a windswept stretch of dune land, its fairways were often the familiar burned off brown colour and texture reminiscent of the British links in the summer and there were few trees.

In the late 1970s Jack Nicklaus transformed the old course making something akin to the courses he was familiar with in his adopted state of Florida.

Only recently did Nicklaus refine his original work but essentially the Australian Open field is facing a course asking the same questions, or variations of them, it has posed since 1977 when David Graham won the first Open to be played on the ‘new’ course.

This is probably the most difficult tournament course in Australia and it is in a condition to rival Metropolitan. Three of the short holes, the 2nd,4th and 15th, are over 210 yards and there are any number of testing two-shotters and the long par five 5th hole running down the eastern boundary.

The real test though, as it always has been here is the wind. How the course plays in the wind is perhaps the biggest Nicklaus change -aside from the visual – to The Australian. The old course was more easily played when the sea breezes blew up because the ball could be run onto many of the greens and bounced along fast-running fairways. These characteristics reflected a course made first in 1882 by men presumably very familiar with the playing traits of the most famous courses in Britain.

Of course the game has altered beyond recognition since the days of Harry Vardon. Hickory was replaced by steel and now graphite. Golf balls have gone from hand stitched affairs to sophisticated aerodynamic missiles capable of being propelled extraordinary distances by the modern driver.

The consequence is now the modern professional game is played through the air and it was Nicklaus himself who heralded the arrival of the modern power game. In his time few played with such power but now it is a mandatory element of success on the tour.

Unsurprisingly his courses reflected the way he played golf and advantaged those who played best his preferred from of the game.

If Peter Thomson at his flying best was playing this week the suggestion would be his style was wholly unsuited the demands of the modern Australian course. Greg Norman in contrast would be the overwhelming favourite.

Rory McIlroy is the finest driver of the ball since Norman and consequently is the one most likely to win but Adam Scott is always a hard player to beat at home.  Mind you McIlroy now lives in Florida and will have been well pleased by what he found when he arrived this week.

It is hard to think of a local course more suited to his incredible game.